September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Palmer family featured on milk carton label

Organic Valley uses farmers to market product
John Palmer and his two kids, Ethan (6) and Norah (3), from Waukon, Iowa, are pictured on organic dairy farm. The carton of 2 percent milk will be distributed across the country as part of Organic Valley Cooperative’s marketing campaign.
John Palmer and his two kids, Ethan (6) and Norah (3), from Waukon, Iowa, are pictured on organic dairy farm. The carton of 2 percent milk will be distributed across the country as part of Organic Valley Cooperative’s marketing campaign.

By by Kelli Boylen- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

WAUKON, Iowa - If you happen to pick up a gallon or half gallon of Organic Valley 2 percent milk in the Upper Midwest, you will see the faces of a Waukon, Iowa dairy farm family who truly believe in what they are doing.
Organic Valley asked John and Meghan Palmer if they were willing to let a photographer come to their farm to capture an image to be used for marketing.
"We were honored to be asked and figured it was the least we could do," John said.
"They are exemplary examples of our farmer-owners and we were happy to choose them as they represent our cooperative well," said Lewis Goldstein, Executive Director of Marketing for Organic Valley. "We have 1,834 farmers across the country, and find strength in numbers. As a farmer-owned cooperative, it's essential for us to forge an emotional connection between our real live farmer-owners and the families who drink our milk. It helps when consumers see the faces of our farmers."
John and Meghan started their dairy in July 2004. The former high school sweethearts grew up about a mile apart from one another. Today, they live on the farm that was Meghan's great-grandparents' farm, less than 10 miles from where both of their parents farmed.
John always wanted to farm. He attended Iowa State University for two years and then moved back to his home area and finished his degree at Luther College. In January 2004, he graduated with a degree in business. While in college he crop farmed, which he could see would not be profitable for him, and he didn't want to farm without livestock.
The timing was right for the young couple when they wanted to move to a farm of their own, the farmstead that had previously been in the family was up for rent.
They placed a swing-10 parlor in the existing barn on the farm, which was built by Meghan's family in the late 1800s.
He was able to locate a grazing herd just a few miles from his farm, and on July 10, 2004, the day after completing the parlor, he started milking 54 cows. The total number of the herd he purchased was about 100, which included youngstock. They started to graze their animals as soon as the pasture fence was put in.
John was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a parlor prior to constructing his own. Meghan's dad, Merlin Gesing, constructed a parlor and John played a role in its construction. Merlin was an organic dairy farmer from the mid 1990s until he retired from the dairy portion of his operation in 2012. John's father, Greg Palmer, is a conventional dairy farmer who grows crops for his own herd.
Palmer believes the benefits of grazing include better herd health, low start-up capital and less work.
"It's definitely a start-up friendly system. And, the more work the cows do for me the better," he said, referring to the cows eating the grasses and clovers instead of having feed brought to them and leaving their manure on the pastures instead of it having to be hauled out.
As soon as they started milking, the Palmers immediately started the transition to have the farm certified organic. The process is not simple, but the young couple believed in what they were doing. They completed the process and started selling their milk to Organic Valley in 2006.
The Palmers consider Holsteins to be the foundation of their herd. They have cross-bred with New Zealand Friesians and other breeds, continually striving for the ideal combination of a trouble-free, yet productive grazing cow. They also have some registered Brown Swiss.
John and Meghan have four children: Faith (11), Ethan (6), Norah (3) and Naomi (2). Having children was part of why having an organic farm was important to them.
"I wanted the kids to be able to be with me on the farm without having to worry about them being exposed to chemicals," he said.
For the Palmers, the importance of farming organically is not just about their family. 
"There is a lot of talk about saving family farms," Palmer said. "For the last 25 years Organic Valley has been doing something to make that happen. Many of the Organic Valley producers have young children, or grown children looking to join the operation. I think that is unique and commendable."
Palmer said that on the day that photographer David Nevala, ( from Madison, came to shoot the photos for Organic Valley last October, they were blessed with a really beautiful day. The pastures were still green, and the sunlight that day was ideal.
"He does a lovely job capturing our farmers and the essence of our farmer-owned cooperative. We're pleased to work with him over the years," Goldstein said.
The photographer and his assistant (who also had a dairy farm background) came that morning and photographed the family as they did morning chores and went with them as they took the herd out to pasture. They left for a few hours in the afternoon to let the kids unwind from having them there, and then came back in the evening.
"That is when we got the best photos," Palmer said. "The sun was going down, and we were just out there milling around and playing with the cows. It even felt like we were part of a living picture that had been made to perfection. The light was just right. We literally have hundreds of really amazing photos from that night."
It was one of those evening photos that became the label for 2 percent sold in this region. The photo on the 2 percent milk labels features John with Ethan and Norah.
"They made it easy," Palmer said about the photographer and his assistant. "They are yet another example of the really great people tied in with Organic Valley. Everyone who works for them has their mission of keeping family farms the forefront of what they do."
The Palmers found out in February that one of their photos was chosen for a product label. Organic Valley plans on having photos of real farmers on all of their products, with photos varying by geographic region and product.
In each of Organic Valley's regions, they generally distribute four varieties of milk:  fat-free, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole.  For each variety, there is a different farm family featured for about 18 months. The 2 percent milk which features the Palmers are distributed primarily to states in the Midwest region, including Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Minnesota.
"This encourages food transparency and the whole notion of know your farmer. Our farmer-owners produce milk with passion - they love their cows and farming, and take great pride in producing the best quality organic milk, and in doing so further sustainable agriculture, for the health of our bodies and our planet," Goldstein said.  
"I am proud to be a member of Organic Valley Cooperative," Palmer said.
Palmer has worked with Organic Valley in promoting organics and family farms. Two years ago, in March, he went to Washington D.C. and talked to members on the hill, and he was part of a study which looked at how the nutritional value of milk is affected by how the cows eat.
Although the Palmers are advocates for grazing and organic farming, Palmer said it's important for each farmer to find what works best for his operation.
"This is what works for us," Palmer said.
In addition to helping out on the farm as she can, Meghan is a registered nurse and teaches courses at Luther College. She is also working on her Master's degree in nursing.
Organic Valley is America's largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation's leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents 1,834 farmers in 35 states and three Canadian provinces, and achieved $860 million in 2012 sales.
Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, produce and juice, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide.

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